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Trailhead Direct Ends On A High Note

The two year pilot project is over, and it was a huge success. Now, let's make sure the service continues.

Last weekend marked Trailhead Direct's last days of service for the 2019 season. It's safe to say it was a successful season. Ridership increased 75 percent in 2019, with users taking 7,700 more hikes this year than in 2018, the second year of the pilot project. It expanded access to hikers who might not have the means to reach trails, and has proved a national model for the potential of similar programs.

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This year's growth can be attributed to the expansion and improvements made to the service, which was implemented to reduce parking congestion at trailheads and improve access to some of the Seattle area's most iconic trails.

The success also built on a years-long strong partnership across a number of local government agencies, businesses and nonprofit partners like WTA. The broad partnership is part of what has made the model — one that has garnered national attention — such a successful case study for what the future of public access to trails could look like.

"Trailhead Direct has been a smashing success," said Jill Simmons, CEO of WTA. "Washington Trails Association believes Trailhead Direct is an essential part of ensuring King County's trails are within easy reach of all residents, and we hope to see transit-to-trailheads continue and expand in the future."

More Riders, More Hikes

Ridership more than doubled from the Capitol Hill Link lightrail station. The Capitol Hill route services the extremely popular Mount Si, and in 2019 featured an additional stop at nearby Little Si. Besides serving hikers who don't have cars, the direct service to Si helped ease parking woes at the trailhead and reduce hiking traffic along a busy stretch of I-90.

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Trip reporters like tiffanyc used Trailhead Direct's most popular route to access Mount Si this year and last. Photo by tiffanyc. 

King County Parks and Metro partnered with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources to design and build a drop-off and pick-up location at the popular trailhead. Far and away the most popular of the routes, the Mount Si service made more than 9,600 hikes possible this season. 

IMproved Access and Infrastructure

The service also added another route, which started at the Tukwila International Boulevard Station and serviced the Sky Country Trailhead at Cougar Mountain. Despite this being the first year this route was offered, riders did 2,260 hikes on this route, compared to just over 2,000 hikers who used the route that services the extremely popular Mailbox Peak. 

"Trailhead Direct is a boon for narrowing the gap in access to the outdoors for communities of color," said William Chen, Communications Manager at ECOSS.

"ECOSS was thrilled to see the addition of service from Tukwila and Renton. This new route was the season’s most popular for the immigrants, refugees and other communities of color we serve, and especially for families and seniors. Trailhead Direct and its partnership with community-based organizations shows the power of meeting communities where they are, to implement solutions that advance the equity of outdoors access."

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The new Cougar Mountain route opened up lots of trails, including ones great for kids. Photo courtesy King County. 

The network also improved the route design in 2019. This year, each route stopped at the Eastgate Park & Ride. This allowed transfers between routes, making it easier for hikers coming from any starting point to access the entire network of trails serviced by the buses.

To improve access and help with hike planning, WTA added links in our Hiking Guide for trails serviced by Trailhead Direct to TOTAGO, a hike-by-transit planning app. In 2019, nearly 900 hikers used WTA and TOTAGO to plan a trip on Trailhead Direct. 

These improvements, as well as increased publicity thanks to the partnership that supported the pilot, led to passengers taking 17,900 hikes in 2019, 7,700 more than in 2018. 

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Partners who supported Trailhead Direct launched the 2019 season at Tukwila International lightrail stop, the starting point for the newest Trailhead Direct route. Photo courtesy King County. 

A successful Pilot; now what? 

King County and their partners are conducting a post-season survey to get public input on ways to improve the service next season. Metro and Parks are considering options for continuing the service next season, which will likely require a similar public-private partnership.

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